Newspapers and other media often paint a dark picture of contemporary education. Studies that compare the knowledge of mathematics of children in different countries add little to the discussion, since many question if teaching algebra to seven-year-old kids makes any sense at all.
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The modern school curriculum contains a wide range of
subjects and attempts to develop children's talents in all directions.
From music to History, from drawing to sports, everything is there to
fascinate and entertain the minds of the young.
Since the variety
of subjects that are addressed in today's classrooms is mind-boggling,
how does one explain that many youths experience boredom at school? Does
the number of subjects correspond to a real learning need or is it
rather a fashion? Do we really want such complexity? What are the
essential elements of a good education?
History gives perspective
and, in this particular case, it teaches us a precious lesson. You
might be surprised to learn that, for almost two thousand years, since
the times of Aristotle until the Renaissance, a good education consisted
only of three subjects.
In ancient times and during the Middle
Ages, there was no radio, no television, and no internet. Books were
expensive and difficult to reproduce. The thoughts of the past were
carefully compiled and copied by hand. Education represented a
considerable investment and was held in high regard.
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traveled hundreds of kilometres in order to enroll in schools that
featured famous speakers. The subjects that students were taught
equipped them with the most crucial skills that a man needs in life,
whatever his later choice of profession. If you mastered those three
subjects, chances were that you would do well in life:
1.- LEARN TO THINK LOGICALLY.
Even during periods of intense religiosity, such as medieval times, the
study of Aristotle's essays on logic was considered indispensable. The
mark of an educated man was his ability to think consistently, find
patterns, and draw conclusions from events. Even though this subject has
disappeared from the school curriculum in many countries, anyone can
afford to buy a copy of Aristotle's works. When it comes to learning
logic, the only barriers to acquiring knowledge are self-inflicted.
DEVELOP YOUR LANGUAGE SKILLS. Communicating your thoughts orally and in writing is the basis
of most commercial activities. Without proper syntax, men cannot make
themselves understood. Language allows individuals to formulate complex
connections between facts. Creativity without grammar frequently turns
out to be meaningless. The simple practice of reading good authors will
boost your ability to communicate in any field. Access to public
libraries is free in most countries. Are you using that possibility to
your full advantage?
3.- MAINTAIN HIGH ETHICAL STANDARDS. The science of human choices
played a central role in education since the times of the Ancient
Greeks. Aristotle himself recognized the importance of learning moral
values as milestones in the path to individual happiness. Another
benefit of studying ethics is learning from other people's mistakes.
Making your own errors will teach you unforgettable lessons, but
learning from publications and good speakers is less expensive. In our
days, books are cheap and internet access is widespread. If you want to
learn, you will find many doors open.
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Do not pay attention to
those who criticize schools and teachers. Complaining is not going to
solve any problem. Realize that you are responsible for your own
education, self-confidence, and personal development. Identify which knowledge you are missing and go for it. The
world is full of opportunities for those who want to learn. Make sure
that you have the three basic ingredients well covered, move on, and pursue your
For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living
[Image by Gilles Gonthier under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]